One year later, final approval sought for proposed cabins


OBSERVER Correspondent

BROCTON – Members of the Town of Portland Planning Board conditionally granted a special use permit for an approximately 70 acre piece of property on Woleben Road in the town.

The special use permit comes 11 months after the board first began reviewing the project and they’re not done yet. Another hearing is set for next month.

The piece of property, owned by Jerry and Beverly Speelberg (Speelberg Enterprises, Inc.) is the site of a proposed family-style campground, where four rustic-style cabins are planned to be constructed. According to Planning Board Chairman Bob Patterson, Speelberg Enterprises applied to move forward with his project in February of last year.

With the necessity of a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) to be completed and presented as part of the process, Patterson noted that the proper information wasn’t presented to the planning board until December, and the permit was previously denied.

The board resolved to adjourn the hearing to last week so that Speelburg and his attorney Dan Gard could obtain the necessary documentation and present it at the hearing.

Since February, Speelberg and his attorney alleged that the planning board wasn’t acting in a timely manner to approve or deny requests for information and had planned to start construction at the campground site on or about Dec. 5, according to Town Counsel Charles Loveland.

Loveland, acting on behalf of the board, sought an injunction in the Supreme Court at Mayville to prevent construction until the special use permit and site plan review could be completed. In a letter dated Jan. 10, 2013 signed by Justice James H. Dillon, the judge granted the stay of construction until special use permit and building permit details were hammered out.

Loveland noted that work can continue on a personal use cabin that Speelberg owns on the property, but that anything related to the campgrounds, which will be considered a business, has to adhere to state regulations regarding special use permits, which are designed to comparatively consider the history of how a specific piece of property has been used and determine how that same property can be used for the future. According to SEQR reviewed on Tuesday, at least six jobs are expected to be generated by the campground, which will call for grounds and registration staff among others.

During the hearing, Patterson and board members reviewed the answers provided on the SEQR in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Speelberg and their attorney, and posed questions.

While Gard, speaking on behalf of his clients willingly answered all questions to the best of his knowledge, the board still had remaining questions about how “gray water” (for example, water left over from hand washing, dish washing, etc.) will be disposed of and what type of specific toilet system will be used in the structure. The proposed cabin will adhere to the “rustic” style desired by Speelberg, and will consist of a sleeping cabin structure made of rough-cut wood, and will consist of no running water, sewer, electricity or public utilities of any kind.

Gard presented the board members with a letter from a County Health Department representative confirming their proposed use of what is typically called a “composting toilet,” deeming it acceptable as long as no running water or water pressure exists as part of the system, and recommending an alcohol-based hand sanitizer system for hand washing.

Portland Code Enforcement Officer Signe Rominger responded that the state requires a proposed toilet system to be approved by the National Sanitation Foundation in order to be considered, and that the system presented by the applicant was not.

The process of how campers’ garbage disposal will be handled, Speelberg’s desire to obtain the right to waive a sprinkler system inside the cabins and the creation of fire roads for emergency response vehicles was also discussed.

Gard responded to planning board members by stating “It’s our intention to comply with the law” and that “we’re more than happy to work with this board and will provide whatever you would like us to have and want to be as timely and correct as possible.”

He did reiterate to the board his desire to see specifications and any relative communications about state requirements on toilet systems and fire issues.

Planning Board member Kelly Link encouraged the board and Rominger to comply by giving Gard something in writing from their end on what the recommendations are for fire and emergency issues relating to the project.

Before the hearing adjourned, Gard also addressed some of what he cited to be “complaints heard from the rumor mill” during the hearing, where a court reporter was provided to transcribe the discussion of the hearing.

Joan and Gary Bonnas, and Ann Marie McEachen, all nearby residents of the proposed campground, voiced their concerns about how garbage is intended to be disposed of and whether the rumors of the campground turning into a shooting range were founded.

Patterson responded, “No, he has not applied for a shooting range. And even if wanted to, he would have to come back to the board.”

“We’re trying to do something very positive here in a non-hunting setting,” added Gard.

The chairman adjourned the hearing to reconvene on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and noted “This could’ve been completed right from the beginning if everything we asked for had been filled out properly.”